Starting Monday, all Michigan residents age 16 and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
But many are skeptical about coronavirus vaccines, especially since it was developed in record time.
How to find a COVID-19 vaccination appointment in Michigan
Below is a closer look at the vaccine, what we know and what we don’t know.
Myth: The vaccine will give you COVID-19.
Fact: None of the vaccines used in the U.S. involve injection of the virus itself, and it is impossible to get COVID-19 from any of the three vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
It’s true that, historically, vaccines produced an immune response by injecting weakened live cells or dead cells from the virus into an individual.
But two of the vaccines approved so far — the Pfizer and Moderna shots — use a revolutionary new process. These mRNA vaccines get our cells to make a protein that triggers the production of antibodies that protect us from the COVID-19 infection.
“So essentially, it fools your body into creating a tiny part of the virus, and then your body creates antibodies to that tiny part,” Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, a division of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, told MLive in December. “It’s amazing and it’s far different than all vaccines we’ve used before. It’s actually far more elegant and makes a lot of sense.
“This is the first time where you use your body’s own machinery to make those pieces,” Elmouchi said. “The reason this is so effective is that your body will make a whole lot of those pieces — and the more exposure to those pieces that are not dangerous to you, the more antibodies you’ll make. That’s why we’re getting rates of 95%” effectiveness.
He and others said that scientists have been working on this technique for a decade, but this is the first time it’s being used for a vaccine.
The Johnson & Johnson shot uses a different technique. It also employs a genetic code to stimulate an immune response, but this vaccine delivers it via a common cold virus called adenovirus 26 that is genetically engineered. (The cold virus is modified so it cannot give people a cold and cannot spread in the body.)
Myth: The vaccine was developed too fast to trust its safety.
Fact: The truncated timeline for the vaccine development involved the bureaucratic and manufacturing processes, doctors say.
In fact, the COVID-19 went through the same safety process as other vaccines, and the real-world usage in recent months has borne out that the vaccines are safe and effective.
So why were they able to develop the vaccines so fast?
For openers, scientists developed the genetic code for the virus almost immediately. That was available in February 2020.
Secondly, the high number of COVID cases in the summer and fall meant clinical trials went faster than expected because people in the placebo group were getting sick at a faster rate than anticipated.
“Remember, the trial has to prove that people who get the vaccine don’t get the disease and the placebo folks get it,” Elmouchi told MLive in December. “Well, when you have so much disease, you can prove that much more quickly.”
Also, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all started manufacturing the vaccine while it was still undergoing approval by the FDA, with the understanding that the doses would have to be thrown out if vaccine was not approved. That meant distribution of the vaccines could begin as soon as each was OK’d by the FDA.
Myth: The vaccine will alter your DNA.
Fact: Not true.
“The mRNA in the vaccines does not integrate with the body’s DNA, nor does it enter the nucleus. The mRNA vaccines cause the body’s cells to create the spike proteins used by the coronavirus to infect healthy cells, but not the coronavirus itself. This is what triggers an immune response, training your body to defend against the virus,” says a fact sheet from McLaren Flint Hospital.
Myth: The different vaccines vary in effectiveness.
Fact: Clinical trials found a 95% efficacy rate for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines compared to 67% for the J&J shot.
However, experts say that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison because the J&J conducted its clinical trials later than the other two when COVID-19 variants were emerging. And among the countries where J&J tested its vaccine were South Africa and Brazil, which have particularly problematic variants.
Moreover, the clinical trials did show the J&J shot was comparable to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in preventing severe cases of coronavirus that could led to hospitalization or death. The lower percentage for J&J was in regards to symptomatic disease, including the more common mild cases.
The J&J shot has an advantage over the other two in that it’s only one shot, which is more convenient for both providers and patients. It also means that individuals getting the J&J shot are fully immune within two weeks compared to the five- or six-week process for the other two vaccines.
Myth: The vaccine has dangerous side effects.
Fact: The vaccines can have some side effects such as headache, fatigue and/or fever, particularly after the second dose. But those symptoms tend to go away after 24 hours, and they’re a sign that the vaccine is properly stimulating an immune response.
There are a few isolated cases of people having a severe reaction to the vaccine, and those individuals are typically people with a history of severe allergic reactions. Individuals with a history of reaction to immunizations should check with their doctor before being vaccinated.
But on the whole, the health risks of contracting coronavirus are “astronomically higher” than those associated with the vaccines, said Dr. Liam Sullivan, a Grand Rapids infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health.
Consider this: In the past month, there have been 1.3 million Michigan residents who have gotten vaccinated vs. about 85,000 who caught coronavirus. The 2,600 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 and the 558 deaths reported since March 1 are because of the latter, not the former.
And even people who aren’t hospitalized risk a case of “long” COVID. It’s estimated that 10% to 30% of coronavirus patients have lingering symptoms that last for weeks or months.
Myth: People who already had coronavirus don’t need to be vaccinated.
Having COVID-19 does create natural immunity, but experts don’t yet know exactly how long that natural immunity lasts.
There have been many recorded cases of people becoming infected with COVID-19 more than once, and that’s particularly true in regards to the variant strains now circulating.
The federal Centers for Disease Control strongly recommends vaccines for those who have recovered from COVID-19.
Myth: Once you’re vaccinated, you don’t need a mask.
Fact: It takes some time for the vaccine to kick in, and even after that, there will be times you’ll need to continue wearing a mask.
Full immunity occurs about two week after your final dose. That’s a six-week process for the Moderna shot, a five-week process for the Pfizer vaccine and two weeks after the single J&J shot.
Even once you are considered fully immune, realize that the vaccine is about risk reduction, not risk elimination.
That means your chances of contracting or transmitting COVID are significantly reduced, and even if you do get infected, the vaccine substantially reduces the chance you will have a severe case. All that said, the risk is not zero.
So once you are fully immune, you can go without a mask if you’re with others who also are vaccinated or at low risk of serious illness because they are healthy and under age 65. However, you should continue to wear a mask when you’re in a public place with strangers or a private event where you don’t know the health status of everyone in the room.
Myth: The vaccine causes miscarriages and/or infertility.
Fact: There are no studies that show that.
At this point, there is no data showing the vaccines present a danger to pregnant women. That said, safety data is limited and ongoing regarding this specific population.
One argument for getting vaccinated, especially considering the high coronavirus transmission rates in Michigan rate now: Pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 when compared to non-pregnant people. That severe illness could result in intensive care admission, mechanical ventilation, or death. Additionally, pregnant people with COVID-19 might be at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19, the research suggests.
Moreover, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 can transfer antibodies to their child according to a recent study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The CDC suggests that pregnant women talk to their doctor when weighing the pros and cons of vaccination.
Myth: You’ll need to get a COVID-19 booster every year.
Fact: Maybe. But we don’t know yet.
Perhaps the biggest question mark around the vaccines: How long will the immunity last?
That will take time to tell, experts say. Some vaccines offer lifetime immunity, but more often booster shots are needed, and it’s possible that people will require to be regularly vaccinated against coronavirus.
It’s also possible booster shots will be needed to protect against variants.
Myth: An individual’s decision of whether to get vaccinated doesn’t impact others.
Fact: Vaccinations protect not only the individual, but the people around them. People who decide to remain unvaccinated will still be able to transmit the virus, and there’s still a chance they could infect a vaccinated friend or family member.
Also, the quickest and most effective way to achieve herd immunity and end the pandemic is for as many people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
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